Today, I booked “Clive”. Not a man, but one of the new fleet of BMWs and Minis in London from car hire app DriveNow. Clive was parked right outside Business Insider’s UK office and I decided to take him out for a spin.
After reserving Clive through the smartphone app, which shows you where the closest vehicle is and works in a similar way to Uber, I scanned my “customer card” on a scanner on the dashboard and got in. To get going, users simply enter a pin number, tell the on-board computer to begin the booking, and start the engine.
Having not driven a BMW 1 Series before, it took me a while to work out the sat nav and some of the other gadgetry. But soon Radio 6 Music was on, a destination entered, and my 60-minutes of cruising around London was underway.
Clive and the other DriveNow cars are all automatic, which helps in London. When I last drove in the capital — in my mum’s less exciting Skoda Fabia — there was a close collision with an IKEA lorry. (DriveNow cars have an insurance excess of around £700.)
Fortunately, I haven’t been left destitute. The only tricky part of my journey was weaving through east London’s busy Brick Lane (more on that later).
I decided to roll around for a while, testing out the bluetooth connection to my phone, and at least get a sense of how fast a 1 Series BMW is. It’s no Chinese Uber Maserati, but it’s not boring. Being London, there wasn’t much opportunity to unleash the German engineering. But at one point, Bethnal Green Road allowed a moment of fun:
The best thing about my DriveNow experience, though, is that it cost just £20. It works out at 39 pence per-minute and an hour is capped at £20.
Essentially, the service is targeted at quick, spontaneous usage — the aim is to provide cars for things like going to the supermarket, driving to a business meeting, or even going to a friend’s house for a big night out. They’re basically the Boris Bikes of the motorised world. They can be picked up whenever and dropped off anywhere; left for the next customer.
The vehicles let you track where you go, how much time you’ve used, and tell you about fees incurred throughout (such as London’s congestion charge)
It all gets much more expensive above the one-hour mark. Two hours in the car would cost £40 for example. The focus is on practicality and speed. There are packages, though: £35 for three hours; and £120 for four.
To compare to other travel methods, I checked out how much a 60-minute journey in a black cab might cost, and Transport for London says it starts from around £45.
Obviously Uber is harder to measure, given surge pricing and other differences. But an hour in even the company’s cheapest UberX model would likely be more than £20.
The only aggravating part of the whole thing — as I mentioned earlier — was navigating Brick Lane. Naturally, the one downside (for some) is having to actually drive, rather than being ferried around by someone else.
Still, it was quite amusing to pass the new Cereal Cafe, where some interesting characters were tucking into a bowl of “breakfast”.
Although some road users got quite upset when I stopped to take a photo
DriveNow costs £29 for registration (though at the time of writing it’s free). It’s the work of BMW and Sixt, which operates car rental geared towards longer journeys. The idea is that the two are used in unison. It’s also different to the likes of Zipcar, which requires drivers to return vehicles to designated slots.
Right now the company is only available in three London boroughs: Islington, Hackney, and Haringey. But there are plans to launch across London — and expand to other major UK cities too.
In the end, my whole booking worked out at £20.95; there was a charge of 95p for earlier parking mid-way through my adventure (I stopped off at the Sun Tavern in Bethnal Green to collect a bag I’d left there a couple of weeks ago). Don’t worry, this time alcohol didn’t feature.
And although I could’ve left Clive anywhere within the current DriveNow parameters, I ultimately decided to park back at the office. This was worrying — I am rubbish at parking and this is a brand new car. But the car has front and rear sensors that helped me parallel park like a master. Thank goodness.
Here it is, scratch-free: